15th Aug, 2018

Ground-breaking virtual reality technology aims to save lives and cash

Ian Hughes 13th Jun, 2018

A GROUND-BREAKING Southam software developer has its sights set on saving lives and saving the taxpayer millions of pounds for taxpayer.

RiVR is looking to provide the UK’s fire and rescue services with photo-realistic training environment using virtual reality (VR) headsets.

The firm has developed a programme which scans any real-world scene using lasers and high-definition photography and displays it as a 360° interactive environment in a VR headset.

Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) has invested £50,000 in the software, which RiVR has used to create a virtual burned-out warehouse which is fully-interactive and replicates the sort of training scenarios firefighters are routinely exposed to, along with a set of 360° videos to train fire engine drivers.

The software, which RiVR hopes will be adopted across the UK, allows trainees to walk around a warehouse and inspect the street outside, pick up objects, find evidence, assess casualties and even feel to see if they still have a pulse.

While all of this is happening, the trainer can watch the trainee’s every move on a computer screen, which shows what they are doing from a first person, third person and bird’s eye view, meaning the trainer can give real-time feedback on how the trainee has dealt with the scene.

Creating a typical real-life training scenario costs around £8,000, so using a VR training environment can save this amount every time the reset button is pressed.

The opportunity arose from a chance meeting 18 months ago between RiVR CEO Alex Harvey and Paul Speight from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service.

Before founding RiVR, which is based on the Kineton Road industrial estate, Alex worked for Southam-based game developer Codemasters for eight years. He is using many of the techniques used in the gaming industry to develop the software.

Alex said: “We’ve been shadowing fire service staff for the last 18 months, going out in fire engines and understanding exactly how firefighters are trained. We needed to see it in real life for us to replicate it in virtual reality.

“However, this isn’t about replacing real-world training. It’s about complementing it and enhancing the way humans learn. We estimate that 70 per cent of all fire service training can be completed to a high standard using VR. It’s a unique medium which allows trainees to access a safe scenario for what is an inherently dangerous job.”

Thanks to RiVR’s work in Leicestershire, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has recommended the software be adopted by all the UK’s fire and rescue services and, to date, 30 out of the 47 services have signed up.

“There are other people creating VR worlds, but they can look like something out of The Simpsons. When you feel like you are in a computer game, you get gameplay results,” added Alex.

“When a scenario looks and feels real, you get much better results because people behave more like they would in a real-life situation – it’s all about immersion.”

RiVR has also applied for £1million funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA which, if successful, would fund two years’ research and development into the product.

Alex added: “There really is no limit to where we can take this. It’s an incredibly exciting thing to be a part of and the whole team is passionate about enhancing the way humans learn using this technology.”

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